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73 blogs…2 writers…1 challenge… Here you will find a featured book. It may be a launch of a new book we have written or a review of one of our favourites that we have written previously.

 

Brimdraca / Lois        –     Lois

Eorodraca / Richard  –    Richard

The Double Act, is now available as a paperback!

Lois is delighted and excited to tell you that her book, The Double Act, is now available as a paperback! First published in 2015 as an eBook, she has now converted it into a tree book!

Easthope is a quiet, slightly old-fashioned seaside town; nothing ever seems to happen, and Genet McCauley and her friends lead lives almost unchanged since they left school. Genet, married to mercurial Lance and running their small hotel, sometimes feels trapped and often feels bored, but she loves Lance and in most ways is content. Their friends call them the great double act; Genet without Lance? Lance without Genet? Impossible! But then the McCauleys take on new tenants in a bungalow they own; is it a coincidence that as the enigmatic Dr Herrick and his disabled wife arrive in the small town, a series of acts of vandalism and arson is committed? At first they are, small, petty events, which seem to centre on the group of friends; however, before long they escalate to violence and attempted murder. When the Herricks come to Easthope, Genet’s life and that of those closest to her, changes for ever. Don’t think ‘The Double Act’ is a romance, this may be a love story… but the other side of love is dark love.

This  is a free preview, anyone can read a sample of this book with just one click – no need to sign in or install an app:

https://read.amazon.co.uk/kp/embed?asin=B01349UBHA&preview=newtab&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_5QZaGbMGHF1X5

It’s available on Amazon (as is the Kindle version)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08T6241M3/ref=sr_1_8?crid=2E5KR50C51DVR&keywords=lois+elsden&qid=1610824370&sprefix=lois+elsd%2Caps%2C272&sr=8-8

CHRISTMAS MEMORIES and Visiting Relations

I was born in November 1934 and I can’t remember very much about Christmas before the 2nd World War which started in September 1939 when I was rising four.   Though I do recall, at some point getting a big box of bricks.   They were different colours, and smooth and shiny, and all different shapes, so that you could build temples with pediments and columns, for instance!   My younger sister and I always had stockings, old lisle stockings of Mum’s, which we were convinced came direct from Father Christmas.   How Mum managed to find things to put in them during the War I don’t know!   But she did, and I remember tiny tins, which must have been for petit fours or something, which she gave us as doll’s cooking dishes, and lots of clothes for our dolls and Teddies.   Though they were always referred to as Bears, Teddies didn’t seem to fit somehow.

Once during the war my Granny and Grandad N (my Mum’s parents) came to stay, but only the once.   Granny died in 1942, and after that Grandad N, plus my Aunt Rose, who was now looking after him at weekends, would both come for Christmas.   Grandad lived on the north Kent Coast, and Aunt Rose was a teacher in Bromley, just south of London, neither area being good places to be during the war.   Our Hertfordshire house was comparatively safe, though being only 20 miles north of London, we did see bombs, one of which fell on our first house, and later, the V1’s, or doodlebugs.

Grandad and Aunt Rose came by train, not easy then.   Occasionally Aunt Rose would bring a turkey (very hard to come by then!), though perhaps it was only the once, and thus made a huge impression on me!   My Dad and I would go down to the station to meet them both, and help carry their luggage back.   We had no car then.

I loved having my Aunt Rose there, though she frightened me sometimes.   Being a teacher she was a bit daunting, especially when she asked me about school.   At that time I went to a private school, and I think she thought I was not being taught rigorously enough!  (In retrospect, she might have been right, I had a lot of catching up to do when I went to the State Grammar School!)

Those Christmases from about 1944 and until about the late 1950’s I remember, with great fondness.  To me it was exciting having family visit.   I would help my mother with the cooking, as far as I could.   I was very conscious it was extra work for her, and she found being the ‘little sister’ to my Aunt very difficult.   In the evenings we would play cards – Newmarket, Sevens Happy Families, and the grown-ups would, inevitably, play Crib.   Oh, the recriminations, and the disgust at getting “Ribs” in Crib!!   I can still remember all the little rhymes and sayings – Morgan’s Orchard (2 pairs – who was Morgan???), Ribs in Crib (nothing there), Two for his heels, one for his knob, Fifteen two, fifteen four, count all night and you’ll make no more.   It takes a game of crib now for me to remember all of them.   Granddad Norris used to love his games of crib.   After the games, they would always fancy a supper – cold ham, or turkey or whatever.   Mum found this a bit of an imposition – she couldn’t see why anyone would want more food after a good dinner and tea!

Christmas Day was the real laugh!   Granddad insisted on cooking the turkey – obviously no-one else could be trusted.   He brought his big white apron, and was immensely tickled one year when someone made him a chef’s hat!   The only trouble was he couldn’t understand the thermostat on Mum’s gas cooker!   When the flame went down, because it had reached the right temperature, he thought the oven was cooling, and would turn it up.   How the turkey always got cooked right is a bit of a mystery!   But it did, and we had that, with stuffing, and cold ham, and sprouts, and roast potatoes and bread sauce (my job, when I was old enough), and then Christmas pudding and white sauce (also my job).   Mum would try and wash up the dinner things whilst the white sauce was being made (so I must have been out in the kitchen too,) and would then serve it all up.   We didn’t have wine, Dad being totally against any ‘strong drink’, but there was Sherry for the evening for Granddad and Aunt Rose.   Every Christmas Day Dad would drive over to Harrow in North London, and fetch his father, Granddad C and Aunt Babs (another of Mum’s sisters) and Percy.   Then at night he would take them back.   Quite a journey, twice.   The Crib games in the afternoons and evenings, with the three sisters and Granddad N, was a real cut-throat occasion, with ‘blood under the doors’ to use a Norris saying!

Like most homes at that time, there was no central heating., but we had a coal fire in the sitting room, which Aunt Rose used to find the fire very hot – I can see her now, fanning herself.   Later on, when my sister and I were older, there were other visitors at Christmas – one year our cousins from New Zealand, Judith and Jennifer, turned up, complete with sleeping bags, and we had the whale of a time.

At the New Year it was the turn of Dad’s relations, and he would go and fetch Aunt Ada, Percy and his brother Bert over, plus Granddad C.   This was a much more subdued occasion, though I loved Aunt Ada dearly.   I don’t know how many years they came, it can’t have been all that many, as Aunt Ada was looking after the aged and blind Aunt Lizzie for many years.

We used to go over to see the Harrow relations quite regularly.   Aunt Babs was always very sharp and sarcastic, the flat was full of cats, but I liked Percy.   He smoked like a chimney, and his fingers were always brown from the cigarettes, but he was a good hearted soul.    Then we would go over and see Aunt Ada in her little house near West Harrow Station.   I never sorted out the relation between West Harrow and Rayners Lane – it always seemed a maze of streets to me.   But Aunt Ada was lovely.   Uncle Percy was a jolly fellow, but I was always a bit afraid of Bert – he had a cast in one eye, and I used to be a bit nervous of him.   Aunt Ada was very good to me when I lived in London on my own.   Visiting Granddad C was an unnerving experience.   Everything was so cold, and dark and sort of rigid.   He had a TV – one of the first, and we went over there to see the Coronation.   Granddad C had some lovely things, and many of them were very valuable – it seems hard to understand why Dad and Mum got rid of everything as a job lot when he died.   The things they kept were of no value at all – everything old just went.   I was so sad about that.

Granddad’s house at Harrow was a little terrace house, with a long narrow garden at the back.   He grew masses of apples, there were cordons all down the garden.   Unfortunately they all seemed to be James Grieve apples, which are not keepers, so every year we had all these apples he pressed onto us, which we had to eat up.   I think he grew other fruit, but it’s the apples I remember most.  

I don’t remember Granny C very well, I think I was about 4 or 5 when she died.   I just recall a very stiff sort of person.   Granddad C was, I think, fond of my sister and me in a formal sort of way.   He used to make rabbits out of his handkerchief, and let us listen to his big waistcoat watch.   Every Christmas and birthday we got a Postal Order – initially for Half-a crown, 2/6d, (12p) but that bought quite a bit then!   He was a strange man and immensely rude to Mum.  He was also very deaf, and had one of those big old fashioned hearing aids, which whistled, and which he turned off if he didn’t want to hear what we were saying to him.   Very annoying!

After Christmas I quite often went back to Kent with Aunt Rose and Granddad N.   I loved this.    We would go by train, of course, and take sandwiches for our lunch.   Usually it was corned beef – which I still love.   Mine had to be packed separately, as I didn’t like mustard.   We generally had then round about Chatham!   It was very exciting when we got to Whitstable, and saw the sea.   It was grey and not very inviting, but always thrilling!   I loved it down there.   I must have gone down in the summer, too, as I can remember going swimming, and jumping off the big diving boards when the tide was right up.   I knew all the shops in Herne Bay, would go to the Library and borrow books, and really got to know the place.   Granddad would take me to the Park and feed the ducks – the smell of bits of bread and bacon rind will always bring back the Park to me.   Aunt Rose showed me the terrace house, where they lived as girls (although Mum was very ashamed of this) and the school they went to.   There were lots of old books at Granddad’s house including a lovely old Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery Book.   I slept in the little front room, and adored the old fashioned dressing table, with its tiny drawers and curlicue wood carving.

Granddad N was a lovely man.  He had been a Sargent Major in the First World War, and  would sing all the old War songs – ‘Its a long way to Tipperary’, ‘The Quartermaster’s Stores’, and he loved Brass Bands.   On Saturday afternoons at 5.0 pm the house had to be silent as he listened on his radio to the football results and checked off his coupon.   Every morning, come hail, snow or sun, he made his ‘Quaker’ for breakfast (porridge).   After breakfast he would shave himself with his cut-throat razor, which he stropped on a long piece of leather hanging on the wall of the larder cupboard.   He waxed his moustache, and when he was all dressed up he was an extremely smart man, with a very military bearing.   He would have hated the modern liking for casual clothes and ‘laid-back’ living.

Granddad and Aunt Rose loved Bowling, and were stalwarts of the local Bowling Club.   They were very good, too, in their younger days.   They would take me to the Bowling Club (especially when I was small) and I remember the Club making me an ‘honorary member’ and giving me a Bowling Club Badge.   I had it for years, but it got lost.    I was very sad about that.   The Bowling Club fascinated me, as it was, to my mind, so secret in the Park, being hidden behind big hedges, and you had to go in by a special gate, for members only, accessed by a double-hedge entry, so passers-by could not see in.

Grandad N died, and for a while Aunt Rose was our only visitor at Christmas.   Eventually she found the train journey too much, and stayed at her home.  By this time our Christmas visitors were boyfriends/fiancés/husbands, and everything changed.   As life does!    In 1962 my parents retired down to Mum’s home town, just round the corner from Aunt Rose (well, a longish corner!) my sister and I were both married, with families, so it was our turn to move the beds around and have the visitors, and we started making our own Christmas memories.

(c) Copyright Gillian Peall

Hanging on the telephone

We didn’t have a telephone when I was a child. There was a red telephone box which was opposite the school, about half a mile, just a few minutes on a bike which was mum and dad’s only form of transport. I don’t remember them ever using the phone, but maybe they did, but who would they have phoned? No-one else had phones to be rung on! We lived in the ground floor flat of a house belonging to a dear old lady, Aunty Gladys, and eventually she got a telephone and I think occasionally mum and dad may have used it, but this was much later when there were more people who also had phones, and it would only have been for what amounted to an emergency. When I was about eight, I had to ring a school friend for some reason, and I cycled with dad to the telephone box opposite the school, with the four pennies needed to make a call. I was so nervous, my voice trembled and I can only remember the anxiety and dad trying to tell me what to do.

When I was fourteen we moved to our own house; it was a semi-detached property which had belonged to some elderly friends of my grandparents. There was a garden full of fruit trees, and the attic was boarded over and was a useful storage space. Did it have a window in the roof? I feel as if it did, but maybe that is just my imagination. These days such a space would be converted into another bedroom. We did not have a phone but there was a phone box just down the road, only a few minutes away and I must have been more confident then because I did ring people, I guess friends from school. On one occasion there was a crossed line; this meant that somehow I was connected to a complete stranger. It was a man and we had one of those odd conversations that sometimes happens and I had the sense that we both wanted to suggest we meet. Of course he might have been twice as old as me – I was probably about fifteen, and anyway I was probably too shy.

We moved house again, this time to Weston-super-Mare, from east to west. We didn’t have a phone at first, but I had a friend who did. I would walk up the hill to the phone box and phone her, or she would phone me back, and I seem to remember spending hours gassing away to her about goodness knows what since we saw each other at school each day. Then we got our own telephone at home which was marvellous. I went away to do my degree, and the awful flats and bedsits never had the luxury of their own phone – that was unheard of then. Sometimes there was a communal phone and I was able to ring home – there weren’t any friends to ring because everyone was in the same boat, no phone! Eventually a friend bought his own house and a couple of us moved in with him, and then luxury, a phone of our own! That was the end of my life without telephonic communication; I moved to my own place and ever since we have always had a landline.

Now of course, everyone has mobile phones, and now we are beginning to think that maybe we don’t need a landline anymore. It must be almost impossible for people younger than us to imagine being so out of touch with friends. My cousin wrote me a letter last week – an actual letter on paper, arriving through the post, delivered by the postman. Instead of messaging her, I found some writing paper and wrote back.

Thanks and credit for the featured image: http://Image by <a href=”https://pixabay.com/users/5477687-5477687/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2387359″>5477687</a> from <a href=”https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2387359″>Pixabay</a>

A reading gallop

I’ve just finished reading a book by an author new to me, Simon Beckett. ‘The Chemistry of Death‘ is the first in his series about a forensic anthropologist who retires from that challenging profession to be a country doctor in a remote part of rural Norfolk. His attempts to lead a more peaceful life away from the autopsy room and post mortems does not succeed and he once again tries to puzzle out what caused the death of a murder victim.  It may not come as a surprise that this is essentially a police procedural even though the main character is not actually a police officer. The setting and the outline of the story may be familiar – the newcomer relocating to forget a personal tragedy, a newcomer who can never belong, the ‘stranger’ who is never fully trusted and becomes the first suspect, a gruesome murder with creepy and sadistic details, the female character who is destined to become a victim, a cast of brutish locals – but the writing, particularly at the beginning, is so good, the writer’s touch so deft and intelligent, that in a way the familiar tropes don’t matter because it’s a damn fine story. In fact, it was so good that I stayed up way too late despite an early start, and when I woke too early for that early start and couldn’t nod off again, I read some more. We went shopping and I read in the car, we came back and I read in the car on the way home. I unpacked the shopping then sat down to finish the story. It was that good, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

There was so much to admire in this book as you have gathered from what I’ve mentioned, however, as I got to the end – and I’m not giving any spoilers or referring to any of the plot or the denouement,  my mind strayed to a very good friend, who is a marvellous and helpful reader of my own stories who gives me such good advice. She criticises but in a positive and constructive way, and one of the first things I remember her saying about one of my books was that it ended too abruptly.  The plot went on apace, the tension mounted there was an exciting confrontation between goodies and baddies, a desperate struggle, goodies triumph but at some cost, closing paragraph, the end. My friend said the reader needed to unwind from the story, to stay within the book and gather their thoughts – not in a lengthy ramble, but in something like a breathing space before leaving and going on to their next read. It was very good advice, and I heeded it, and still remember it when I come to the end of what I’m writing.

In ‘The Chemistry of Death‘ the action comes to a climax and the perpetrator of the crimes is revealed  – this was where I could hardly read fast enough to keep up with the action – but wait, what? No! it’s not that person, it’s another, and though the main character was safe, no they weren’t! The action girds its loins and gallops off again and there’s another episode of  action and conflict and narrow escapes – but no! There is another breathless edge-of-the-seat episode. Even when all is revealed, the author still has another surprise up his sleeve but by this time I was feeling a little overwhelmed with it all and almost out of breath; much as I enjoyed the book and thought it clever and very well-written, I did think the resolution of the plot did go on just a little too long, and somewhat lost its impact. I’m sure people will disagree – it was very clever but I wondered if it was just a little too clever and if it went beyond what was feasible even within the elastic boundaries of fiction!

I have book 2 of the series now, ‘Written in Bone‘, and I look forward to reading it when I have caught my breath!

Also in my dreams

For some reason, without being in touch with each other about this, we seem to have had a couple of dream posts, one from Lois, ‘A thing of disturbing dreams‘ and a poem from Gillian, ‘In my dreams’. Seeing Gillian’s title, Lois was reminded of a song by her favourite band, The Mavericks from their 2003 album of the same name. She hopes Gillian likes it!!

IN MY DREAMS

In my dreams I can always run,

Surefooted over the stoniest track.

Never straining for strength or breath.

The easy run of an athlete is mine.

In my dreams, I never want to do

The impossible, to fly, travel in time,

Transport myself from place to place

In a blink.   I just do ordinary things.

And yet I continually fail, in tests,

Examinations at school, college or university.

Always my younger self is there,

Counting losses

That in life do not exist.

And when I awake, unhappy,

I can only wonder, why?

(c) Gillian Peall

Phobias

I have known Alistair for many years. I met him on our first day at school, Southwick County Primary. I was very nervous and didn’t want to let go of my Mum’s hand. I saw this other small boy looking just as distraught as I probably did. Our Mums started chatting and we sort of looked at each other and wordlessly decided that we were both in the same boat and so would face the unknown in that big building in front of us together. When a teacher came out and asked for all the new reception class children to follow her into the building we did so without giving our mothers another thought. We were told to take off our coats and hang them on a hook in the hall. They all had our names on them so I that was when I found out that my new friends’s name was Alistair. Our pegs were next to each other as my name is Andrew. Both Scottish names and here we were on the English South coast.

That was the start of our friendship that has lasted to this day, thirty two years so far. We are very different characters. I am the outgoing sporty, confident one while Al. is the quiet, introverted clever one. I always say that Al is the one who gets into trouble and I am the one who stands up for him and helps him out when physical prowess is required. He says that he helped me in school and did most of my homework and explained it all to me. I think we are both right.

He seems to have problems with people. He cannot really look people in the eye or do any sort of small talk. He either talks to someone who is willing to listen to him keep on about one of his special subjects or he switches off, doesn’t talk and just doesn’t listen. He has other strange habit such as tapping with his fingers on a desk or table or twiddling with his hair. So I guess he is a little strange but we get on well. He thinks I am crazy playing football nearly every week, ‘Once you have won once, why do you have to go and do it all again?’ he asks, completely seriously. So, yes, we are completely different but that may be why we get on so well.

He also has a few habits which are starting to cause him problems as he gets older. We are now in our 30’s and both working.I drive fork lift trucks in a distribution warehouse while he is a digital games developer. We both enjoy doing our respective work but look with horror at what the other one does all day.

Alistair works in one of these digital salt mines where there is a deadline on writing the code for the particular game the company is developing. Al thinks best when he is free to tap out the rhythms that float around his brain on his desk. This drives the other developers mad and it got so bad that the manager called Al into his office and said that he had to do something or he would have to ‘let him go’ even though he was easily the best developer there and often had to sort out the other developer’s problems and often works many extra hours to meet a launch deadline. He still has a couple of his specialist subjects on which he is a real expert and is a fount of knowledge. One of these is British coinage. He can easily tell you – if you should want to know – what 230 groats would be worth in today’s coinage, taking into account inflation over the years. He would also love to discuss with you why a 1797 penny minted during George the 3rd’s reign is so big and heavy. Strangely enough, not many people seem to want to be dragged into such conversations. He usually starts off by telling you the history of the Groat. ‘It was introduced by Edward the 1st in 1280. It was worth four pence. It was usually made of silver and was the highest value coin in circulation…’ He continues in this vein for as long as the other person who is notionally part of the conversation is prepared to listen. They usually get to say nothing,’ no chance to get a word in edgeways,’ is a typical comment. People soon learn and start to avoid Al when he sidles up to them and starts on about groats or another of his obsessions – such as his magnificent collection of old glass bottles. Do you know the ones with as glass stopper inside and a wire spring over the top? He has about 870 of them and can describe each one in some detail, what they used to hold and which company used them…should you be interested. He always seems to be surprised when people say they are not interested and want to just pass the time with some small talk about the weather or discuss how their favourite football team is doing in the league this year. Al often then asks the other to explain how two teams can be in league but play against each other. He is a literal straight line thinker. Please don’t try to explain a joke to him, you will end up tying yourself in knots. He has a great, but weird, sense of humour and will laugh hysterically at something only he finds funny but will not understand what you or I will call funny.

Al also has no idea of current clothing fashions or even of self care. He will let his hair grow until someone, usually me, tells him that he is in need of a hair cut. He will grab the first piece of clothing that comes to hand in the morning. One day he might wear a dark, formal suit with a smart tie and trainers, the next day he might wear a ‘Living Dead’ T shirt with bright red chinos, a green baseball cap and white Baseball boots. Other developers in the team often place bets on what he will came to work in that day. Given a free choice he would wear the same clothes for days at a time until someone, usually me again, tells him that he should wear a variety of clothes. He doesn’t understand why, ‘if I like a set of clothes why not wear them every day”’ he asks. He uses the same logic with food. If he find he likes something, he will then eat it every day, like marmite sandwiches for lunch.

He is a stickler for exact routine so always turns up at work at 0817. He has a fascination with the number 17. Please don’t ask him why or you will be in for a long lecture about the life and times of the Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci, born in Pisa in 1170. He will lead you through the theory of the Fibonacci Replacement and the Fibonacci Sequence and if you have the time and patience, all about the Golden Mean and then on to the theory of prime numbers and so back to the number 17. If you ask a question about this he will show you an algorithm he has written on his computer that has been searching and listing prime numbers continuously for seven years now. It has found quite a few… Apart from the prime number 17 his favourite is, of course, the Golden Number – 1.618. He will be quite happy to explain how the Fibonacci sequence was found and what it has to do with breeding rabbits. Prepare to be bored or fascinated, depending on your personality. I made the mistake one day of asking him why he liked the number 17 so much. He was surprised, ‘didn’t everyone like the pretty yellow number 17 as much as he did? He then explained to me the sequence of primes, one of which is, of course, 17. If you disregard the single factor 1 and then factorise each prime, you can see the sequence of primes and the gaps between them. So, 3 is a prime and the next one up is 5 so they have a gap of 1 between them. If you go on from 5 then the next prime is 7, with one space. Next from 7 is 11 but that has 4 spaces, 11 to 13 has 1. 13 to 17 has 4 again. Why is this, why is there not a regular gap between them. Most people don’t worry about this but Al has many spreadsheets that play with this and try to work out the why of it all.

He brings his lunch to work and always has exactly the same at exactly the same time. He will leave an important meeting with the management team of the company to go and sit at his desk to eat his lunch of marmite sandwiches and a half cup of coffee at 1317, regardless of what else is going on. If asked why, he will be surprised and say, ‘It’s my lunch time.’ If he is asked to work overtime – past his nominal finish time of 1817, he will; ask how long for and expect and answer to the minute – just saying, ‘to finish off the ‘loop of the code that they are all working on’ will mean nothing – if it is getting behind schedule he will reply that they should have started earlier or worked faster instead of wasting time talking about football. If he is asked to work through the night, he will quite happily do so, as long as he knows exactly what time he will be finished and he will have time to go home to make his marmite sandwiches for the following day.

I will often wind him up – it is quite easy. If we arrange to meet up on a Saturday for a pub lunch, he will happily agree as long as I have booked a table and state the exact time we will meet at the pub. If I say ‘Oh, between 1 and 1:30’ that is not good enough, it has to be by the minute – 1317 is ideal! If I am late, he will ring my mobile at 1318, wondering where I am. One day, I was a little early and as Al was already there of course, I decided  to mention that I had invited another friend. This caused Al to have a panic attack and it took me quite a while to calm him down and explain that I was only joking – there would only be the two of us for lunch.  Al just cannot deal with several people at the same time. He is hopeless at parties and will spend most of the time in the kitchen while demanding of me every few minutes,’ is it time to go yet?’

One Saturday, I decided to tackle him about his time phobia and why he had to be so precise about tying actions to time.

He denied he had any phobias, he said that his Dad had taught him that ‘Punctuality is the politeness of princes’ so it was very rude to turn up late for an appointment. He had heard of chronophobia but insisted that he was not chronophobic. He agreed that he might have a mild form of retardation phobia – a fear of being late, which is why he was usually up to an hour early for our regular Saturday lunch, ‘ in case something went wrong on the journey – like the bus breaking down for example.

I then put it to him that he might have a mild case of Scopophobia – a fear of being stared at but had to agree with him that he was often stared at because of his unusual habits. He didn’t like it but he was quite used to it by now and he certainly didn’t have a phobia about it. Then he turned the tables on me and said that he thought I had two phobias. 

‘What are you talking about,’ I asked him.

‘Isn’t it true that you are frightened of spiders and when you put on a waterproof jacket that you are frightened that there may be a spider hiding inside it?’

I had to admit that there was at least some truth in what he said.

‘I have done some research into this and there are simple and complex phobias. You have two phobias but they are linked so I think you have a complex phobia called Anoracknophobia.

I had to agree with him and I think it is a good thing I am not a web designer.

© Richard Kefford 2021

A thing of disturbing dreams

As part of my writing challenge undertaken with a fellow writer, to write 73 blogs from a given list, I am on to #36: Review a film you have recently seen. I can’t actually remember the last film I saw – maybe ‘Last Christmas’ which I actually saw the Christmas before last, 2019… So to review that would mean having to research it and write about what I vaguely remembered – not a proper review really. So instead of a film, I shall review a TV series, a Canadian programme called ‘Cardinal, a police procedural based on novels by Giles Blunt, and set in a fictional city called Algonquin Bay. The Algonquin people were the original people of what is now Canada.

John Cardinal is the eponymous detective in a Canadian crime series, first aired in 2017. There have been four series so far, starring Billy Campbell as Cardinal and Karine Vanasse as Detective Lise Delorme. Each series has six episodes which follow the investigation of a particular crime, as well as focussing on the characters of the officers involved. Cardinal is worn down by the mental health problems his wife suffers, and is as in many of this type of TV series, somewhat of a maverick, although a very quietly spoken, and rather sad maverick.   Billy Campbell is the sort of actor who portrays his character through expression, body language, posture, and even his gait; he allows the audience insight into his feelings and motivation, without saying anything, and yet the other characters are not necessarily aware of this. I felt as if I were reading a book and had a reader’s insight into a character that the other characters don’t have – they only see the external but we glimpse the internal thoughts, feelings and struggles. Similarly Karine Vanasse as Delorme, conveys warmth and empathy without any words; there are no jokes or comedy in this rather grim but compulsive series, and yet Vanesse gives her character a supressed sense of fun and liveliness behind her passive but engaged expression.

The plots are intriguing, but rather gruesome – of course they are, that’s the premise of such TV series! In series 1, Forty Words for Sorrow, Cardinal believes a missing Native Canadian girl has come to harm and eventually after some intrigue within the police department, sadly she is found dead. Cardinal’s new partner is Delorme who is covertly investigating him, and together they investigate the murder which, as you might expect is actual the work of a serial killer.  The pace of the series is measured, unhurried, and focussing on the visual as well as the story-line so that the tension builds to the conclusion,  leaving the viewer satisfied and yet with many thoughts on what they have been watching. Series 2, Blackfly Season, shows not only the investigation team at work, but the perpetrators of the rather sickening murders which have been committed to conceal other crimes.  The background story to Cardinal’s personal life, the struggles of his wife with her mental health, comes to the fore, adding to what the viewer understands of his character and the difficulties he faces, personal and professional. There are two more series which I have yet to watch, By the Time You Read This and Until the Night.

There is however, another major character in Cardinal, and one I find beautiful, yet very disturbing, creepy and a thing of disturbing dreams. This other character is the vast empty forests of Canada where much of the action takes place. I love woods and forests, and there are few things nicer than walking beneath trees, following tracks and trails with so much to see, so many different sounds to listen to; above all is the great feeling of peace and serenity when wandering through ancient woodlands.  The Japanese call it ‘forest bathing’ – a process of relaxation, known as shinrin yoku; it offers a natural way to be calm and quiet amongst the trees, to observe nature while deeply breathing it all in. Apparently, and I’m sure it’s true, shinrin yoku allows forest bathers to de-stress and boost their health and wellbeing in a natural way. I am not sure I would feel relaxed, calm, de-stressed if I were walking among the trees shown in Cardinal. I feel quite tense just watching – the trees are familiar to me, including birches and oaks, Sitkas and other pines and spruces, graceful, beautiful giants, but those starring in this TV series hide their true nature and become sinister, watchful, concealing all manner of bad and dangerous things! The bird calls are menacing and ominous, the sound of pattering animals alarming, and the undergrowth is humming with unseen almost malign anticipation. Even Cardinal’s house, in the forest is not a place of safety but menace – and why doesn’t he draw the curtains? Bad things might be waiting outside in the forest, but no-one seems to lock their doors, allowing those bad things to enter!

I recommend you watch Cardinal for the superior characters, acting and plots, but most of all to give yourselves a real creepy fright with those sinister trees… just waiting… just watching… just swaying and ready to…

Cuckoos

Eddie tried to stifle a yawn, it had been a long day and he was getting tired, not to say bored. He was sitting in a none too comfortable chair across from Captain Frederick  Olsen, his client. Frederick had been a Captain in the Army which was, of course, a much lower rank than in the Royal Navy. This was why he called himself Frederick and gave the impression, without actually saying so, that he had spent quite some time at sea with the Royal Navy. 

Fred was wittering on about his fraternal grandfather who was born in the Faroe Islands in 1882. He had lived in Tórshavn, also known as Thorshaven. He was a fisherman and went to sea until he was 53 when he decided to move to England because it was difficult to earn a living from fishing at the time because of the collapse of the demersel fish stocks due to over fishing. These were mainly cod but also included haddock and pollock.

He moved to Aberdeen with his wife and two children. His wife, Kristina ( neé Jacobsen ) was reluctant to move but realised that her meagre earnings at the Faroe fish processing plant were’t enough to support the family. The children were in their late twenties but decided to move South as their prospects in the Faroes were very limited. The plan was for their father, Jónas, to get a job fishing on one of the boats working out of Aberdeen to catch pelagic species such as herring and mackerel and then use the contacts he had made to find jobs in the industry for Katrina and the children, Marlena and Marius.

Eddie was a good listener and kept his clients talking while taking detailed notes and asking short questions to show that he was paying attention. He had studied active listening and mirroring, so felt he was now expert at drawing out the information he needed to write a Family History of his clients. He had been working as an independent genealogist for more than eleven years so he felt that he was only now getting on top of his subject. He advertised in Family History magazines but most of his commissions came from word of mouth and personal recommendations.

Eddie was well regarded in the trade and had written many excellent stories of his customer’s Family History and so made a good living from his craft. His biggest frustration  was that of all historians, trying to find the answer to one particular question that would unlock a whole series of other answers. In Family history terms this might be a missing record that would unwrap the preceding layer of ancestors or unpicking an unknown relationship. He was often heard to mutter that he would like to go back in time and listen to the family stories from an ancestor.

At the moment he was stuck on one particular person. That was Jónas Olsen’s Father ( b. 1854 Tórshavn ). Why was he shown as being christened as Geirolvur Hansen Olsen? It was very unusual at the time for a child to be given two christian names. Eddie suspected that Geirolvur’s father was not an Olsen but was in fact fathered by a Hansen. The secret would have been kept because very few Faroese were literate at the time so would not have been able to read the records that were kept by the church.

If Eddie’s theory was correct, it would mean that his client was not an Olsen at all, his surname should be Hansen and it would change his ancestor’s name before 1854, from Olsen to Hansen. As always, more research was needed. Eddie grumbled to himself that his job would now be a lot easier if he could just have a chat for half an hour with Geirolvur’s mother. He couldn’t of course, in fact he didn’t know who she was. There were no BMDs in the Faroes at this time so he was dependent on the church christening records.

It took a while but he eventually made contact with Jógvan Fríðriksson, who was the current bishop of Tórshavn Cathedral, Havnar Kirkja, in the old town. He passed Eddie’s enquiry on to the keeper of the records of the cathedral, Petur Alberg. He agreed to look up anything Eddie required. Following Eddie’s guidance, he found that Geirolvur’s mother was Gerda Joelsen. He did this by looking for siblings of Geirolyur and then looking for a likely marriage that took place around the same time and then looking for their parents. This then showed ’s Geirolvur’s mother as  Gerda Hansen.

This confirmed what Eddie had surmised, Geirolvur was really the daughter of Gerda Jacobsen and Magnor Hansen when she was married to  Signar Olsen.

He didn’t disclose his ideas and findings to his client as he felt he had to be sure of his facts and he made it an absolute rule that he only used proven facts in the histories he developed for his clients. Any information that was suspect was either discarded absolutely or written as part of the story but with an attached warning. If what he had uncovered was true then his client should be named Fred Hansen, not Fred Olsen.

Eddie went to bed that night with Fred Olsen’s family roiling around in his head. He now had his suspicions but could not prove the fact that Geirolvur was in fact not the son of Signar Olsen as the records showed but was the product of a secret liaison between Gerda and another man – almost certainly a Hansen, who was at present unknown. This would change the relationships down through the years and would make Geirolvur a half brother to his ‘sister’, Hanna Olsen.

Eddie had long been a poor sleeper and, when he did sleep he had dreams – ones that he could often remember the next morning. As he got older, they became more vivid and memorable. Because he was a genealogist, these often involved many people from a long time ago so it was probably inevitable that he would dream about an Olsen family who lived in the Faroe Islands.

It started with a sea voyage from Aberdeen to Thorshavn – the reverse of the journey of the Olsens when they fled from the Faroes because of the fishing depression.

When the ship landed at Thorshaven, they were met by Geirolvur Olsen. Eddie was by now embedded in the dream so he went along with the Olsen family until he was introduced to Gerda. He was very excited now but how could he ask her the one question he needed answering, ‘Who is the biological father of your son Geirolvur?’ The dream slowly faded and the next thing he knew was waking up next morning. He could remember most of the dream and was determined to try and get back into it the next night. He had done some research on dreams and knew that sometimes it was possible to change a vivid dream into a lucid one. He had never had a lucid dream but knew it was thought possible to fall into a vivid dream and then turn it into a lucid dream where the dreamer knew he was dreaming and could control the dream. He couldn’t wait to go to bed that night to try and see if he could control his dream enough to meet Gerda again and ask her the question in private and depending on the answer, see if he should keep the secret or explain it all to Fred.

It was time for bed. Eddie snuggled down under the duvet, keen to get to sleep and enter the magic world of dreams – especially vivid and lucid dreams.

‘Hello Eddie,’ she said, ‘good to see you again.’ Eddie shook her outstretched hand then looked down at what he was wearing. It certainly wasn’t the pyjamas he had put on before going to bed, more like a fisherman’s outfit, waxed yellow canvas jacket and trousers with thigh high boots. Was he really here in Thorshaven and if Gerda was here then it must be many years in the past – in the 19th century in fact. He now had the time traveller’s perpetual nightmare – how could he ask what year is was, without everyone looking at him as if he were mad? He looked Gerda over. She was a tall woman dressed in clothes suitable for working in a fish processing factory. She wore a long dress with short sleeves – the better to handle the fish, he supposed. Her hands were red from the constant wetness in the factory and handling the fish all day. She had a yellow rubber apron on to protect her dress. She also had a hat to keep her head warm, a strange confection that looked similar to the design of old dutch hats.

Gerda looked him in the eye and said,’ welcome to Thorshavn in 1871,’ as if she knew what he was thinking. ‘Come with me, we will find a quiet place to talk and you may ask me your many questions.’

They walked along the harbour wall until they came to a slipway down to the beach from where the small fishing boats were launched. They sat on one of the upturned boats that were stored high on the slip, away from the incoming tide.

‘Now ask your questions,’ said Gerda

‘You told me it is now 1871, so when were you born?

‘I was born in 1831, here in Thorshavn.’

‘Who are you parents?’ asked Eddie.

‘My mother is Linnea Arnfins and my father is Jarund Joensen. The both still live here in Torshavn. My mother is now 64 and my father 67.’ said Gerda.  ‘I guess you now want the answer to the question you came here to ask.

Eddie paused, a little frightened to ask such a personal question. Eventually he asked quietly, ‘ who is the father of your son Geirolvur? 

Gerda looked steadfastly into Eddie’s eyes. ‘Do you know that you are the first person to ask that question? I think you already know that it wasn’t my husband so I think you want to know what happened and who he was?

‘Yes, please,’ said Eddie. ‘I will never tell anyone what happened unless you allow me.’

‘Very well. His name is Magnor Hansen, he is the fish factory manager here in Torshavn. My husband was at sea a lot and Magnor is a very attractive man so we had a short affair while Signar was on a long trip to the Barents sea to try and make up for the poor catches around these islands. We both agreed to finish it before Signar came home. I later found out I was pregnant and knew the child was not Signar’s but I kept that to myself and nobody apart from me and now you knew the story. Signar is still unable to read so I managed to give Geirolvur the middle name of Hansen so that perhaps someone long into the future would discover the truth – and now here you are. His father is Magnor Hansen.’

‘I do realise that this will put you in a quandary because all the future descendants of Geirolvur on the male side should have the surname Hansen instead of Olsen. It is completely up to you to decide whether to tell any of them or not because I will be long dead before you are born.’

Eddie slowly started waking up and then realised that he was now wearing his familiar pyjamas . As he came to he realised he was now in possession of a piece of information that no one else in the world, now alive,  knew about. He made himself some breakfast and then drew a family tree on his computer of the Olsen family as he now knew it. He decided he was duty bound to tell his client Fred Olsen about the story and the fact that he had the wrong name. He could then decide what to do. Eddie couldn’t tell Fred where he had got the information from – he wouldn’t be believed anyway.

He got on the phone to Fred and asked for an appointment with him alone. Fred agreed and they set a date for the following Tuesday.

‘So what’s all this cloak and dagger stuff about? Have you got a family skeleton to tell me about?’ He laughed.

‘As a matter of fact I have, ‘ said Eddie, much to Fred’s surprise.

‘Tell me’, said Fred

So Eddie told him all about the new information he had found. He told him all about Gerda and the fact that Geirolvur wasn’t the biological son of Signar Olsen, even though he had been brought up as one of the the family. Fred cottoned on to the implications quickly as he realised that he was really a Hansen and not an Olsen.

‘It is a fascinating story but I don’t think I’ll be changing my name any time soon,’ laughed Fred. ‘Now let me tell you another family secret that I must ask you to keep to yourself. I have a friend, who shall be nameless. He used to work away from home a lot and I have always had a thing for his wife. To cut a long story short, we had a very brief fling many years ago and the upshot is that they now have a daughter but I am her biological father.’

‘That’s not so surprising.’ said Eddie. ‘Since the availability of DNA testing to confirm, or otherwise, familial relationships, it has been found that about 10% of children are growing up in the “wrong” families. It makes a mockery of family history research doesn’t it? The question I have to ask you now is, ‘do you want me to draw up your family tree showing Gerda’s transgression with Magnor Hansen or would you prefer to ignore that part of your family history?’

‘I think I would rather stay an Olsen – think of all the paperwork that would be involved in changing my name and the effect would roll down to my children and grandchildren. So let sleeping dogs lie please.’

Eddie duly completed his research and wrote a book detailing Fed Olsen’s family history. He did wonder if his apparent dreaming or time travelling would be a singular event or perhaps it would happen again to help with his next commission?

© Richard Kefford 2021

Now reading The Queen of Whale Cay

I’ve read several books by the author Kate Summerscale; she writes historical investigations using contemporary resources such as newspapers and  police reports, and delves into a particular mystery, person, or event – or a combination of events. Her research is amazingly detailed, fantastically meticulous, and I’ve sometimes thought what ends up in her book is just too detailed, and the meticulous research more than enough. Sometimes the amount she writes, to me, seems to mask the events, or take away from their impact.

The first book I read by her was one I came across through reading a review of it, ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ about a nineteenth century murder of a toddler by a member of his own family or household. This is a comment I made about it: There is so much in this book, and in a way there is too much… I felt like saying “Oh for goodness sake, Kate, just get on with it!” I can’t criticise it for style or skill or the detail which she has included, but it just overwhelms the reader. She offers a solution, the accepted verdict at the time, she offers an explanation for the crime, and she follows the characters to the end of their lives… but I just wish it had been slimmed down, it all fell a little flat, it was all a little… dare I say turgid? It is certainly fascinating, and I know many people think it’s an amazing study of a tragic incident in an ordinary family’s life and what ensued, so I would recommend it…

I enjoyed it enough, and was impressed enough to read another book by her, ‘The Wicked Boy’. It was the account of another family murder, this time it was not a child who was murdered, but a child who murdered. Once again there was a huge amount of detail about what was indeed a wicked murder, and again I wrote about it: ‘The Wicked Boy’  the biography of a boy who was convicted of murdering his mother in 1895 and was then sent to Broadmoor Hospital He was thirteen at the time of the crime and as it wasn’t until 1908 that execution of children under the age of sixteen was banned, he could have had a death sentence. The biography follows Robert Coombe’s life from the time he stabbed his mother to his trial, his confinement and beyond to his life after he was released after thirteen years and eventually started a new life in Australia. The early life of Robert leading up to the crime is explored and a tentative theory is put forward about what led to this dreadful act – and the almost horrific events in the days which followed until the murder was discovered.

This year Kate Summerscale published another non-fiction book; it was a mystery, but I’m not sure there was a crime – or at least it’s debatable what sort of crime was committed by Alma Fielding. The true story happened in the twentieth century and involved the research by contemporary psychic investigators into a woman around whom poltergeist activity happened. It sounded intriguing, and indeed Alma Fielding herself was intriguing but the huge amount of research and evidence which she included just slowed the narrative to the point where I was actually struggling to read it. These were my comments on ‘The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story’ : It was what I had expected, but unlike the story of Mr Whitcher and The Wicked Boy, I didn’t find it sufficiently engaging despite the spectacular sleights of hand/breast/armpit/thigh and more intimate parts of her body; those investigating her just seemed so gullible and maybe with other agendas, that towards the end I was almost flipping through the pages just to finish it. Credit to Summerscale for the mountain of research, but ultimately, despite its potential, it was just rather tedious and long-winded.

I have just embarked on a fourth book by Summerscale – yes, despite my criticisms I find what she writes interesting and thought-provoking. I am now reading The Queen of Whale Cay, the story of an intriguing character, Marion Barbara aka ‘Joe’ Carstairs who was born a hundred and twenty years ago in 1900. I’m only sixty or so pages into it, but I am really enjoying it, not because of the subject or her interesting life, but because Summerscale has written it in such an engaging way. So far there is plenty of detail, but not too much, and woven into the narrative so it supports what happens to Joe rather than drowns him/her. It was Summerscale’s first book and she started to write it having received a letter from a woman  about an obituary Kate had written for Joe Carstairs. This incident, the receipt of the letter starts the book and leads us into the story of Joe as Kate researches her and begins to interview those who knew her. I”m only a little way in, but it is written with a lightness of touch which I didn’t feel in her other books. The detail is there, masses of detail but it meshes with the story-line perfectly. Maybe I will think differently when I have finished it, but I have to say it’s more accessible than her other books, and more engaging, particularly the previous one I read, ‘The Haunting of Alma Fielding’.

Here are Kate Summerscale’s books in the order they were published – I haven’t yet read the Mrs Robinson book, but maybe I should!:

  • The Queen of Whale Cay, 1997
  • The Suspicions of Mr Whicher  2008
  • Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace, 2012
  • The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer,  2016
  • The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story, 2020

Lois Elsden